Against a backdrop of the Russian import embargo and squeezed profit margins, Laura Bowyer visited a Danish pig farm to look at its finishing system.
Danish pig farmer Asger Krogsgaard started farming 100 sows on 30 hectares (74 acres) in partnership with his parents near Rinkobing, West Denmark.
Some 22 years later he keeps 1,700 sows, producing 55,000 piglets annually with 625ha (1,555 acres) of owned ground and an additional 200ha (494 acres) rented. Each year 33,000 pigs are finished at 110kg, producing an 85kg carcase, and 22,000 are sold as 30kg weaners to neighbouring farms.
Mr Krogsgaard has invested DKK23 million (£2.2m) into a finishing unit with room for 4,000 pigs. He said: “It is a lot of money but we have invested in feeding equipment and have made it possible for further expansion.
“Taking weaners to finish is more stable for the Danish economy than exporting them as weaners like we were doing until recent years. Nationally our numbers of finisher pigs have been decreasing, while weaners have been increasing as we continue to export.
“We grow one-third of our own feed grain and buy more from our neighbours. The land is poor here, we have to irrigate to grow a normal grain crop. We grow 100ha of oilseed rape, but we sell this off-farm.
“We have also been growing maize to feed to our pigs, we are growing 150ha. It can be a bit cold here for maize. The summer was bad and crops struggled, but it has caught up since.
“We do not cut the whole plant. Our forager just strips the cob off and leaves the rest in the field.
“Maize is really good for pigs and it benefits their feed conversion rate. The forage improves stomach health and the acidity benefits the animal.
“We weigh the finishers every week which has really helped us improve our performance. With our number of staff you can really look at the details of production.”
Grain is milled on-farm and mixed into the finisher ration. The grist of the grain is tested regularly to ensure it is milled correctly as wrongly milled grain can affect growth rates in the herd.
Feed is mixed at one of Mr Krogsgaard’s finisher farms and transported to his other units. A ration is mixed of barley, wheat, soya, minerals, maize and bread waste and can be fed either wet or dry.
“In Denmark we are paid on weight and lean meat percentage of the carcase. We send 1,000 pigs per week to be killed.
“We have a loading room where we can put 350 pigs when we leave here at night which the lorry driver can then load. We get DKK3 more per pig if they are collected before 6am.”
Mr Krogsgaard hopes through investing in handling, the farm can save in labour.
“Males grow 10 per cent quicker than females. We pick out the males one week early to stop them putting on fat. All our males are castrated and are kept with the females.
Asger Krogsgaard grows 150 hectares (370 acres) of maize for feed.
“You have to decide which market to be in and we have chosen the Danish market. If you are selling weaners into Germany, you are becoming part of their market. We sell to Danish Crown, which exports globally.”
Danish-produced pigmeat is 90 per cent exported, with a large amount shipped to outside of the EU.
Danish farmers have felt the brunt of the Russian import embargo. Starting in January 2014 due to African swine fever, the embargo highlighted the importance of needing stable market access outside the EU.
The Chinese pigmeat market has been growing over recent years, while domestic production has been dropping and EU production is on the up.
“We are doing slightly better than breaking-even and we are positive things are going to get better. We have the know-how and efficiency to be part of the future’s production.
“Our traceability is very good here and I believe food safety is going to become increasingly important in the future.
We need to get into the Asian market. It is thought they will give a price higher than the world price if food safety is high.
“Forty per cent of our producers are not making money.
Another 25 per cent of farmers need to get more efficient or go out of business.
“In recent times, Danish farmers have not been content with the country’s Ministry of Agriculture. However, there is support for the newly-appointed Minister and farmers are feeling more positive about the future of their industry.
“In the past, Denmark has been focusing on piglet production and now the focus is turning to finishing pigs.”